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Progress? What progress?

india Updated: Nov 30, 2007 01:29 IST
Ketaki Ghoge

In villages across Gujarat, mobile vans fitted with LCD screens are showing films that focus on the Modi government's failures.



The aim is to counter Modi's much-vaunted development plank. The films give details of farmers' suicides, power tariff hikes and rising prices of essential commodities. There are pictures of rural neglect.



The Congress has finally firmed up its strategy against Modi. And it is not aimed at attacking Hindu fundamentalism.



The effort rather, is to debunk Modi's development claim, while saying as little as possible about the politics of Hindutva. The Congress acknowledges that in Gujarat, Hindutva-bashing does not win many hearts or minds.



"Our main plank is definitely the failure of the Modi government to develop the state. We are going to expose the lies in his development propaganda," said Himanshu Vyas, Gujarat Congress spokesperson and candidate from Wadhwan, Saurashtra. Both Vyas and his colleague Shaktisingh Gohil, Congress candidate from Bhavnagar, Saurashtra, said they would not make the 2002 carnage an election plank.



"We are not going to rake up that (riots) issue. Gujarat needs peace and we think the citizens know the truth already," said Gohil.



Clearly, the Congress does not want to let the BJP revive the Hindu-Muslim rift of the last assembly polls. It knows it needs Hindu votes to defeat Modi. The campaign model it has chosen this time flows from the rural-centric one YS Rajasekhar Reddy led against Chandrababu Naidu in Andhra in 2004.



Inclusivity is the party's other mantra. "We have given tickets to our alliance partners like NCP, CPM and even BJP dissidents to avoid a split in votes. We have also given fair representation to all castes," a senior Gujarat Congressman said.



The Kolis and Patels — castes most upset with Modi — have got the maximum representation. The Leuva Patels, sub-caste group of dissident daddy Keshubhai Patel, have been wooed the hardest — harder than even the Kadvi Patels, said to be close to the BJP.



"The Congress has given representation to all important communities. Of their three central ministers — Shankersinh Vaghela, Dinsha Patel and Narayanbhai Ratwa — the first is a Kshatriya, the second a Patel and the third a tribal," said Suresh Mehta, former chief minister. "In the BJP, only one man matters."



Yet, Congressmen admit they could have done with a strong leader who could measure up to Modi. Neither of their two top state leaders — party chief Bharat Solanki and leader of the opposition Arjun Modhwadia — are a patch on Modi. And barring Vaghela, who is originally from the BJP, they have no leader with a pan-Gujarat image.



"Modi is very popular among all sections of the middle class. Nearly 40 per cent of Gujarat is urban and likely to tilt to him," said Achyut Yagnik, analyst and author. "But there have been gaps in his development model which the Congress could exploit."



Indeed, some BJP leaders are a little worried. What if the focus on development backfires like the NDA's 2004 India Shining campaign? "And in the end, voters elect the local candidate," said a BJP leader.